Interview: Citizen

by Nich Sullivan

Expect the unexpected: Citizen’s Mat Kerekes on the changes that drive the band’s fourth album

Citizen are nothing if not a communion of young men imbued with old souls. Their upper-midwest roots can sometimes belie a savviness that would stack up against that of any ‘coastal elite’ musicians, and it comes partly a result of adventurousness. More than that, Mat Kerekes and bandmates, Nick and Eric Hamm, welcome advantages when they become available. Their collective mental agility keeps them ever-relevant in and around a scene that tends to move in fits and spurts, and in front of paying audiences that have kept getting younger with the advent of streaming music and instant global availability. 

Kerekes outlines the band’s genesis in broad strokes. ‘Nick and Eric grew up in Toledo; I grew up in Michigan on the border of Ohio. We were always very active in the Toledo music scene from a very young age.’ After auspicious beginnings around the age of twelve when they became active, the friends developed their chops and signed with the newish Run for Cover Records (RFC) as one of the first bands to receive a three-album deal on the label. A relationship that continues through to the present, Kerekes sees it as mutually beneficial: ‘Run For Cover introduced us to a lot of people that, otherwise, probably wouldn’t know we exist. With such a varied roster, it gives us the opportunity to network and tour with bands/artists that we would probably never consider an option. Which opens us up to many kinds of people and fans.’ Since RFC gave them their platform, they haven’t looked back, unless perhaps it’s in the interest of uncovering inspiration for their anthems of anger, uplift, or love gained and lost. 

 Citizen’s fourth LP marks yet another transition in the band’s approach, but sacrifices none of the anthemic hooks and melodies that have made them forebears of a specific brand of emo-adjacent rock. Life In Your Glass World is full of a ‘Sturm und Drang’ energy that manifests out of writing songs around their rhythms first and coalesces around a newfound sense of the freedom enjoyed during its creation. The result is an all-out assault on the listener that can come across at times as almost combative. Citizen very much want these songs to resonate with listeners, and they know that any thematic omelette requires a few broken egos.  

The story of Life In Your Glass World begins with an easement in the expectations that can typically add stress and cost into an LP’s preparation. Kerekes says that there was a bolstered sense of autonomy with the easing of those restraints. ‘We had no deadline to write the record. We knew the general time frame but there was no “it has to be done by this time.” We casually wrote the songs and then self-recorded the record, which allowed us to do whatever we wanted, and make things sound however we wanted. A big thing was simply trusting our gut and not overthinking.’ That self-recording process was largely aided by a recording space that the band outfitted in Kerekes’ erstwhile garage. They were able to then tinker with everything without any monetary cost associated, and the varied sonic palette that came from that time spent is proudly displayed on the new work.

When it came to the writing process, Citizen chose to explore a wholly different angle. They would decide first on rhythmic signatures and sounds. In what could be seen as an inversion of traditional form in guitar-driven rock, they wrote melodies around the rhythms – as opposed to inserting the beats into pre-existing melodies and/or vocal arrangements. ‘I think putting emphasis on the rhythm of the song really created a cool vibe that feels fresh and fun. A lot of the songs are really in your face, and I attribute that to the way they were written. It was all music first, then the vocals came last.’ The end result is an album with several songs that move and shake a bit like dance-rock, but one that, importantly, still maintains the signature of its makers. 

In an artistic economy struck down to its knees by a pandemic, the next steps are a bit tenuous, but there is a plan. Kerekes says that Citizen are planning to tour on ‘when it’s possible to do so safely,’ and with the new album finished, they are getting back to a normal life and taking a mental break from artistic endeavors – be they as a band or in other projects. But he doesn’t completely count out something new: ‘Maybe after the LP’s release, something creative will spark. Who knows?’

For the band’s part, Kerekes only wants audiences to enjoy the album as a document of a new kind of world that happened to coincide with a new way for the band to go about creating. He is keen to live up to what he sees as Citizen’s place in an ever-evolving music landscape. ‘We are always at least attempting to mix it up… I think it is expected for Citizen to do the unexpected and that is cool to me.’

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